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Me and Scott took the day off last week to go to the movies. I cannot remember the last time we did that. Sat down in an actual cinema with actual other people and watched a movie. It was a great audience. We mocked the Australian-Mining-Will-Save-the-Environment ad together. Then we laughed and cried and cheered our way through The Sapphires.
The Sapphires restored my faith in movies. I was on the verge of sticking to TV and never bothering with movies again. The Sapphires pulled me back from that brink. I walked out of that cinema elated and happy and almost a week later the feeing hasn’t worn off yet.
For those not in Australia, The Sapphires is a new movie about an Aboriginal girl group who performed for the US troops in Vietnam in the late 60s. It is now screening in Australia and France and will be released in NZ in October and UK in November. It will also be screening in the USA but I haven’t been able to find out when yet.
If you get a chance to see it DO SO.
The Sapphires is a biopic in that it is based on the lives of a real Aboriginal girl group who performed in Vietnam in the 1960s. But unlike so many biopics, such as Ray, there’s no boring bit after they get famous and take to drugs/alcohol and then are redeemed because The Sapphires don’t become famous. It’s not that movie.
It’s also astonishingly gorgeous. The cinematography by Warwick Thornton, the director of the also visually stunning Samson and Delilah, makes everything and everyone glow. When I discovered the budget was less than a million dollars, which for those of you who don’t know is a microscopic budget for a feature-length film, I almost fell over.
Deborah Mailman is, as usual, the standout. She’s been my favourite Australian actor ever since Radiance in 1998. I would even go see her in a Woody Allen movie that is how great my love for her is. Wherever Mailman is on screen that’s where you’re looking. And no matter who she’s playing I find myself on her side. She could play Jack the Ripper and I’d still be on her side.
The Sapphires is a movie where you see the effects of systemic racism AND you get joy and hope and MUSIC. The movie was upbeat and heartbreaking and funny and left me full of optimism for the entire world. Things do get better! Amazing things can be achieved even in the face of racism and sexism.
The movie manages to convey how the civil rights movement in the USA was important to Aboriginal people in Australia deftly and economically. (I had just been reading about Marcus Garvey’s influence on indigenous politics here in the 1930s, which was an excellent reminder that Australia’s civil rights movement goes back much earlier than most people realise.)) It covers a great deal of the terrain of racial politics in Australia in the 1960s without ever losing sight of its genre.
This appears to be a problem for many of the reviewers in Australian newspapers. The reviews are all weirdly tepid in their praise. They refer to The Sapphires as a “feel good” movie and a “crowd pleaser” as if that were a bug not a feature. Um, what? It’s like they went in expecting Samson and Delilah—a great film don’t get me wrong—and are mildly annoyed that this one didn’t rip their heart out and stomp on it. The thinking seems to go: I walked out of The Sapphires wanting to burst into song. It must be lightweight fluff.
The Sapphires is a movie that aims to make you laugh, fill you with joy, jerk some tears from you and to maybe make you think, if you’re white Australian like me, about how deep seated racism is in this country. It succeeds in all of those goals. How does that make it “merely” entertaining? Gah!
I will never understand the attitude that says serious = deep, funny = shallow. It is a widespread view. Take a look at all the award-winning books and films. Very few of them are funny. Or could be described as light. What’s up with that?
I have a list of books and movies I turn to when I’m down. What they have in common is that they are excellently well-made and they make me feel good. TIt’s a lot harder to write one of those books or make one of those movies than you’d think.
The Sapphires has just joined that list.
A friend of mine, a librarian and blogger and reviewer, has had a handful of authors attack her because she wrote what they considered to be bad reviews of their books. She did not enjoy it.
This is not an isolated incident. Reviewers have had authors dummy spit at them, sic their fans on them, and generally make them wonder why they’re bothering to write reviews.
What can bloggers do when wrathful authors and their hordes descend up on them?
Here’s what my friend did. She took down those reviews. Good idea.
What these authors don’t realise is that their worst enemy is not critical reviews; it’s obscurity. No reviews is way, way, way worse than bad reviews.
Someone hates your book? That’s a good thing because it means they actually read it. (Even better you got a passionate response!) No one reading it. No responses? That’s the fast track to out of print and gone and forgotten.
That’s what I fear: not being able to sell my books because I have no audience. I do not fear people hating my books. Jane Austen is hated. Every writer I love is hated. It’s a feature, not a bug!
So here’s my advice: if an author has a go at you for a less than gushing review of their book—take it down. And if it’s possible leave a polite note explaining why. Something like:
This space was occupied by a review of X by Cranky Author. Cranky Author was incensed by the review so I have removed it and will no longer review anything by Cranky Author.
See? Everyone’s happy. Cranky Author’s eyeballs are no longer assailed by your shocking blindness to their genius. You don’t have to deal with their crankiness.
And maybe if everyone does this, those authors—and fortunately they are small in number—will get the message and knock it off.
As a general rule, authors, do not respond to reviews. They’re not for you, they’re for readers. And especially do not attack the authors of those reviews! Leave reviewers alone!
As I may have mentioned, once or twice, I recently finished the first draft of my Sekrit Project novel. And, yay verily, I was full of joy. There was dancing. Bouncing. Happiness and even more joy.
After the joy I spent a few days tinkering with it, fixing the egregiously rubbishy bits, adding things that needed adding, moving chapters around. As you do.
Then I sent it off to my wondrous, fabulous, worth-more-than-their-weight-in-mangosteens-and-other-precious-things first readers.
Then I kicked back and watched loads of Olympics and blogged and did many things that have nothing to do with Sekrit Project. And there was more joy.
After a week there was still some joy on account of OLYMPICS OH HOW I LOVE THE OLYMPICS but there was also creeping OMG THEY ALL HATE IT WHY HASN’T ANYONE GOTTEN BACK TO ME ABOUT IT NOT EVEN MY OWN HUSBAND IS IT REALLY THAT BAD thoughts.
Then yesterday one of my readers got back to me. She liked it! PHEW.
But more importantly Meg had really smart, useful notes for me. And I got to talk with someone who was not me about Sekrit Project and most especially about the second half of the book and the ending.
I think I got a little giddy. It was such a pleasure to finally talk about it. Poor Meg. I plied her with a million and one questions. And she answered them all for me in really useful ways. I have a much better idea of what is and isn’t working and how to fix it. Scott also came through with notes on the first half of the book. There was bouncing and dancing.
Both Meg and Scott’s notes were full of questions about character’s motivations, aspects of the worldbuilding that didn’t make sense to them, why certain things happen when they do and so on. Questions that make me realise that I had not achieved what I thought I had. All too often the book was too subtle, too opaque, too confusing. All of which I am now brimming with ideas for how to fix.
This world and people I have created changes once other people have seen them. Meg and Scott’s comments and questions have changed how I see them too. I love this part. I love how it gives me a million and one ideas for making the book better.
Have I mentioned that rewriting is my favourite part of the writing process? This is why.
I know there are lots of writers who can figure out all this stuff for themselves. But I really depend on feedback. I need to know how readers respond to what I’ve written because all too often what I think is there is not there. And I can’t discover that by reading and rewriting my book over and over again. I can’t do it alone.
So now I can rewrite to deal with all those problems and work towards the general embetterment of the book. And once that’s done I send it off to my agent. Then when both she and I are happy it gets sent out to editors. Who will in turn send me their own notes.
At least that is how I do it.
Trust me, every writer has their own methods. Some never show anyone anything other than their agent and editor. Some talk constantly about their book and what happens in it as they write and have several people read it as they go along. Some, like me, only let people read it once they have a complete draft. Some have everyone in the world read it and comment. Others none.
Whatever works for you is how to do it.
When I talk with women friends about sexual harassment it turns out that we’ve all experienced it at some point. But almost none of us have ever reported it. I have never been raped but I have friends who have been. None of them reported it.
The women who do report their rapes often say that it was like being raped all over. They were made to feel like they were the criminal, interrogated about what they wore, how they behaved, how they “provoked” the attack. Somehow the assault must have been their fault. Many say that if they could have a do over they would not report it.
Many of us no longer go to certain places—night clubs, friend’s places, science fiction conventions etc. etc., way too many places to list them all—because we don’t feel safe. Our best friend’s husband/brother/friend/nephew always finds a way to touch us in ways that creep us out. The bouncer at our favourite night club stands too close and won’t take no for an answer. The big name writer/fan/artist keeps following us around and no one will believe us when we complain. We’ve quit jobs to get away from harassers and stalkers.
Some of us have tried to report it and been silenced. “That’s not real harassment.” “You should learn to relax.” “He was just being friendly.” Or even worse, “Look, I know he’s an arsehole but he’s such a big name if we did something about him it would be disastrous.”
The punishment for women who report their harassers is ferocious. I know women who’ve lost their jobs, their health, their confidence, had to move cities. Who because they were brave enough to report the man who harassed them have suffered far more than the man they reported.
So most women don’t report it. We tell each other who the gropers and creepers are. For years women fans warned other fans to stay away from Isaac Asimov’s groping hands. Stories are still told about him. Humorous stories. Because ha ha that loveable Asimov and his wandering hands. What a silly duffer flirt! Harmless, of course. Didn’t mean anything by it.
Almost every job we’ve ever had we’ve been warned about someone. Almost every convention we’ve been to we’ve heard the rumours about who to avoid.
Bummer for the women who aren’t warned and don’t know who to stay away from.
If only these men were punished for making women’s lives a misery. Then we wouldn’t have to rely on gossip to stay safe. If only they were the ones who were fired and not invited back to conventions etc.
That’s why so few women report their harassers and rapists.
Because we live in a culture of apologists. We live in a culture that looks everywhere: at a woman’s clothes, body, behaviour, her being in the wrong place at the wrong time, as the reason for why harassment, abuse, rape take place. Everywhere, that is, except at the perpetrator and the culture that enables him.
The culture that teaches the harasser, the rapist, that women’s bodies are up for grabs. Look at how she’s dressed! She’s totally asking for it! Teaches him that a woman who says no to him doesn’t really mean it or is a lesbian or frigid or a bitch and thus deserves whatever happens to her. That a woman who says yes and changes her mind is a tease. That a woman who says yes is a whore and doesn’t deserve her wishes and desires respected beyond that yes. That sex workers can never say no and mean it and so can never be raped and always get what they deserve.
I have heard people make these arguments who I thought were my friends. Who I thought were smarter and better than that. Who I thought shared my values and politics. They did not get those ideas out of nowhere. They are in the air we breathe. Every bit of culture we consume.
How the hell do we change this shithouse world we live in? This world where women’s and children’s word on sexual harassment and abuse is ALWAYS doubted.
Every time we’re brave enough to report our harassers and stalkers and rapists we’re standing up to rape culture. We’re making the world a tiny bit safer. But it is UNBELIEVABLY HARD to do so. I’ve never been brave enough.
We need men to do the reporting too. Men witness their friends harassing women. They need to STOP THEM. They have to speak up when other men make rape jokes. They have to stop laughing when their mates tells a story about sleeping with an unconscious woman or otherwise coercing a woman into sex when she clearly didn’t want it.
I know men who do fight back against rape culture. There need to be more of them. So many more.
I have also seen men change their behaviour. I’ve seen them realise that what they’d been doing was not okay. Despite the fact that their mates and their bosses and their culture said it was. Who realise that the advice they’d been given that “women like to be pursued” that “they don’t mean it when they say no” was crap and making the women they went after’s lives a misery. Not to mention their own lives.
Overwhelmingly it is women and children who are sexually harassed and assaulted and raped. But it does happen to men. Particularly in gaol. And because we live in such a misogynist world, where for a man to be in anyway aligned with a woman is the worst thing ever, those men who are raped are also largely silent and not taken seriously. Because, the twisted logic goes, if they were real men it never would have happened. Clearly they are effeminate and thus were asking for it. Misogyny doing what it does best: making everyone’s life wretched.
This post was inspired by Genevieve Valentine bravely reporting her harasser at a recent science fiction convention. Read her post it’s amazing and I am in awe. Because of Valentine’s actions and of the active support she received from brave allies like Veronica Schanoes the conversation about sexual harassment in the science fiction world has been loud and vigorous and, most importantly, the inadequate initial response of the convention’s board looks to be overturned. (Update: it was overturned. Here’s Readercon’s statement.) Twenty years ago nothing would have happened. Things are getting better.
Yes, way too many people crawled out of the woodwork to explain away the harasser’s behaviour but far more people were moved to action. To support Genevieve and to demolish those stupid apologist arguments. Valentine has a couple of follow-ups on what’s been happening that are well worth reading.
I hate the world we live in. But I also love it. I do think things are getting better. But, oh, so very slowly. But at least we’re having this conversation. When my mother was a girl we weren’t. Hell, when I was a girl it wasn’t the loud and persistent conversation that it is now. That’s something. Not enough, but something.
Comments on this post: Any rape apologies, “harassers are misunderstood,” “why are you trying to ban flirting” etc. comments are going to be nuked. You’ve been warned.
Cassandra Clare has written an important piece called Rape Myths, Rape Culture and the Damage Done. If you haven’t read it already you really should. Be warned: she discusses much which is deeply upsetting.
What I want to briefly comment on here is the notion that to write about rape or war or any other terrible thing is to automatically condone it. Cassie writes:
[T]he most important point to be made here is that to depict something is not to condone it. This is a mistake that is made all the time by people who you would think would know better. Megan Cox Gurdon in the Wall Street Journal, for instance, excoriated YA books for being too dark, zoning in specifically on “Suzanne Collins’s hyper-violent, best-selling Hunger Games trilogy” and Lauren Myracle’s Shine, which depicts a hate crime against a gay teenager. Anyone paying any attention, of course, can tell that while violence is depicted in the Hunger Games, it is hardly endorsed. It is, in fact, a treatise against violence and war, just as Shine is a treatise against violence and hate crimes. Gurdon notes only the content of the books and ignores the context, which is a unfortunate mistake for a book reviewer. If the only people in the book who approve of something are the villains (nobody but the bad guys thinks the Hunger Games are anything but a moral evil) then it is a fair bet the book is about how that thing is bad.
What Cassie said. If you follow that argument through to its logical conclusion than we who write books marketed at teenagers must not write about conflict. We must only write upbeat, happy books in which no one is hurt or upset and nothing bad ever happens. But even that would not be enough because I have seen books like Maureen Johnson’s The Bermudez Triangle described as “dark.” A gentle, funny, wry book about two girls who fall in love is dark? I’ve seen other upbeat, happy books described as “dark” because the protags have (barely described at all) sex.
The complaint that YA books are too “dark” usually does not come from teenagers. Teenagers write and complain to me that there’s no sequel to my standalone books, that there should be four or five books in my trilogy, that I take too long to write books, that I’m mean about unicorns, that zombies DO NOT rule, that they hated that I don’t make it clear what really happened in Liar, that Liar made them throw the book across the room, that their name is Esmeralda/Jason/Andrew so why did I have to make the character with that name in my books so mean, that one of the Fibonacci numbers in Magic Lessons isn’t, in fact, a Fibonacci. I also get the occasional complaint that their teacher made them read my book when it SUCKED OUT LOUD. People, that is SO NOT MY FAULT! BLAME YOUR TEACHER!
A question for you, dear readers: what are your favourite long-running series?
Mine is probably Walter Mosley’s Easy Rawlins series. Because it got better and better with each book. The characters and the world grew. It never felt like Mosley was churning them out for a buck. They more than stand up to rereading.
To define my terms: I consider a series long-running if it has six or more books in it. A series can tell one continuous story like Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond books or have same character(s) but different stories in each book.
So what are your favourites? And why?
One of the results of my recent injury, which has meant that I spend no more than four hours at my computer each day, is that I’ve been reading a tonne more. Here are some jetlagged thoughts, without any spoilers, on stuff (of all genres, not just YA) what I have read and loved recently:1
Battle Royale Koushun Takami: Do not read this book if high school students murdering each other in graphic detail appalls you. And let’s be frank, it should appall you. I’m appalled that I was not appalled. But then I kind of like boxing too so clearly I have no moral compass at all. Um, yes, I loved this book. I could not put it down and kind of loved all the characters. It’s the kind of wonderfully well done crackalong pulptastic experience that I think Taratino frequently goes for (but in my opinion largely fails at). Actually, I thought I’d already read this book but it turned out I’d just seen the movie, which is not anywhere near as good. A few people are accusing Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games series of being a rip off Battle Royale, which is silly. It’s an old, old plot and her version is very different. I hope that clears things up and people will stop with the dumbarse plagiarism charges. Aside from anything else even if she had deliberately set out to do a YA version of Battle Royale it would still not be plagiarism. Borrowing a plot is not plagiarism. I’m not just saying that cause I had planned to write a YA Battle Royale.2
Bride of the Water God Yun Mi-kyung: I wrote about this manhwa series after I’d finished vol. 2. I said at the time that it has some of the most gorgeous art I’ve ever seen. After five volumes I stand by that. If anything it’s been getting even more beautiful. I also said I didn’t have much of a clue about what was going on. I stand by that too. I love this series. I enjoy it in a clueless haze.
Bury Me Deep Megan Abbott: This crime novel is set in the 1930s thus it was research. W00t! Awesome novel by a writer who’s new to me. I’ll be reading more of her stuff. Lyrical, intense, with gripping plot. Just my cup of tea. If only it had been set in NYC and not LA, it would have been perfect. (For research purposes, I mean.)
Dreaming of Amelia Jaclyn Moriarty: I’m a huge Moriarty fan and this latest addition to her series which began with Feeling Sorry for Celia about a bunch of high school students at two high schools in Sydney, one posh, one not. The beauty of this series is that you can read them out of order without any ill effect but if you read them in order there even better. My faves are this one and Bindy McKenzie. All the books in the series are told from multiple points of view via letters, notes on the fridge, legal depositions, etc etc. They’re technically stunning. It is very hard to tell a gripping, moving story that way. Yet Moriarty not only does it but does it so seamlessly you stop noticing that these are not conventional novels. I love these books.
Enchanted Glass Diana Wynne Jones: I love pretty much everything Wynne Jones has ever written. She is a genius and this is one of my fave books of hers in ages. She’s funny and moving and, well, I just worship her. My only quibble was that the ending was a tad abrupt. But who cares. It was Diana Wynne Jones. More, please!
Pluto Naoki Urasawa: I cannot decide which of the three Urasawa manga series that I’ve read I like best. I love Monster. It’s a bad seed story, what’s not to love? But on the other hand 20th Century
For those of you who’ve been asking1 here’s more photos of the garden.
First up here’s one of our lovely Eucalyptus ficifolia or flowering gum. They’re incredibly common here in Sydney. I swear almost every street in Surry Hills is lined with ficifolia. I miss them like crazy when I’m in NYC. Hence the need to have some on the deck:
Isn’t that adorable? Baby ficifolia reminds me of a puppy dog whose feet are way bigger than the rest of it. Only it’s the leaves that are outsized compared to the currently spindly trunk and branches. I do wonder how those branches manage to support the weight of the jumbo leaves. (Why, yes, that is a stake holding it upright.)
Did you notice the native violets (Viola hederacaea) underneath? Eventually those lovely violets will go cascading over the sides of the pots. It will be so gorgeous!
Here’s a close up on some NEW GROWTH. (Um, yes, I am kind of obsessed with the garden. I am aware that plants tend to grow.)
But still that’s actual new growth that happened while it was on our deck. Can you see why it fills my heart with such joy? I swear every morning when I go out to check that they’ve survived the night (*cough* *cough*) I find a new tiny spurt. *sigh of happiness*
Though I also tend to find that some evil beastie has been doing some munching! Grrr.
If I find the culprit I destroys it. How dare it eat our garden?! The outrage! Okay, yes, I know that it’s all part of the beautiful cycle of life and blah blah blah but they can go eat someone else’s baby ficifolia.
Here’s my favourite grass tree or Xanthorrhoea johnsonii. Tis a double-decker:
I wasn’t sure about having grass trees. They’re so amazing in the wild that I wasn’t convinced they’d look okay confined to a wee pot. But they look incredible. I spend hours on the deck just watching the wind move through their fronds. I think I am in love with our grass trees.
Lastly here is the new view from our bedroom:
That’s Syzygium luehmannii or as it’s more commonly known lilli pilli. There’s now a wall of it guar
As some of you know Alexander McQueen committed suicide earlier this year. He was one of my favourite living designers. I own a shirt, two jackets and a skirt of his. I have gotten a great deal of wear out of them and yet they still look new. They’re gorgeous, exquisitely cut, not to mention comfortable. When I wear them I feel taller and stronger and more stylish. They make me happy.
It’s hard to explain to people with zero interest in fashion why designers like McQueen have such loyal followers. Why his death made me cry. It’s even harder to explain it to people who actively hate fashion. But I want to try.
Clothes like the ones Alexander McQueen made are both something you can wear and what’s more fundamental than clothing? Food, water, shelter, clothing. Those are the basics for keeping us alive. Everyone has some kind of stake in clothing whether they give a damn about their appearance or not. Now, obviously, very few people are buying McQueen just to say warm. His clothes are expensive in the extreme. But the point is that they are wearable. Their performance as clothing is spot on.1
But McQueen’s clothes are also art.2
This is one of the most beautiful dresses I’ve ever seen.
McQueen’s clothes at their best are jaw droppingly beautiful. I have the same visceral response to them that I do to any other art that moves me: great paintings, sculpture, music, writing. It’s the same feeling that overwhelms me when I see a truly gorgeous sunset or a spectacular view.
The fact that its wearable art just makes it more extraordinary.
I love the sweep of McQueen’s clothes, the use of so many vibrant beautiful colours. I love me a designer unafraid of colour. But as you can see from the first image above and the first one below he could also rock black and white and grey. I love his attention to detail. When you see these clothes up clothes you see the care that’s taken at every level, the buttons, the lining, and the fabric. Like Issey Miyake, McQueen’s fabrics were right at the technological cutting edge. Many of the clothes in McQueen’s final collection are printed with digitised images from European art over several centuries. Scott has a shirt of McQueens’ which is a digitised pattern of a baroque jacket. It’s exquisite. Photos of that shirt do not do it justice. As I’m sure these photos don’t come anywhere close to showing just how beautiful McQueen’s final collection was.
I love that McQueen was greatly influenced by fashion of the twenties, thirties and forties. (My favourite fashion decades of the 20th century.) I love that his influences went broader than that. I love how truly inventive he was.
All my McQueen pieces were bought on sale. If I’d been able to, I’d have bought many many more clothes of his, but most of his clothes are well out of my price range (as they are well out of the reach of the vast majority of the world’s population). One of the major objections to high fashion is that it is obscenely expensive. Who can afford a $10-$1000k (or more) dress? Very few of us. But then who can afford to have an original Modigliani on the wall or have Zaha Hadid design th
Due to boring circumstances beyond my control, I will not be online much for awhile. Fortunately I’ve been able to line up a number of stellar guests to fill in for me. Most are writers, but I also thought it would be fun to get some publishing types to explain what it is they do, teach you some more about the industry, and answer your questions, as well as one or two bloggers.
Kristin Cashore is one of the bright new stars of YA fantasy. I met her at a Books of Wonder event last year and we had a lovely time
gossiping talking of serious matters and have been pen pals1 ever since.
- – -
Kristin Cashore is the author of the fantasy novels Graceling and Fire and is working on her third book, Bitterblue. She’s lived in an awful lot of places but has recently moved back to Massachusetts, where she writes in a green armchair with an enormous cup of tea at her elbow.
(A friendly warning to any readers who are afraid of heights: this post and its pictures might be uncomfortable!)
A few trapeze lessons ago, I was up on the platform, getting ready to swing. Now, for a beginning flyer like me, what this means is that I was leaning perilously over the edge of the platform, reaching for the trapeze bar, while an instructor behind me held onto my belt to keep me from falling down into the net. The instructor, Kaz, was giving me my instructions — stomach out, shoulders back, lean forward — and I wanted to do what he said — I even thought I was doing what he said — but actually I wasn’t, not really, not entirely, because, well, as it happens, on occasion, my body has an adverse reaction to the concept of leaning out over a void.
Then Kaz, holding my belt, said a single word: “Trust.” Words are powerful, aren’t they? That word made me understand everything all at once: what I was doing, what I wasn’t doing, what I was afraid of. I understood that Kaz wasn’t going to let go of my belt and drop me; that Steve, holding my lines on the floor below, wasn’t going to drop me either; and that Jon, swinging in the catch trap on the other side of the void, was going to do everything in his power to catch me when the time came. I trusted these guys. So I leaned myself out the way I was supposed to, and when I heard my call . . . I jumped, swung, and FLEW.
I’ve been thinking a lot about trust. Nothing in the world works without it, but even when it’s working, it doesn’t always make sense, does it? Trust is one of those words that means what it means, but also means the opposite of what it means, if you get what I mean. In other words, trust is about choosing to believe in something, even while knowing it might not exist. It’s about throwing yourself into something wholeheartedly, deciding to be certain about something, despite your uncertainty. Have you heard the saying, “Leap, and the net will appear?”
(They really shouldn’t let writers on the flying trapeze. There are too many impossible-to-resist metaphors.)
In my current work in progress, my protagonist, Bitterblue, a very young queen, doesn’t know whom to trust. She’s so turned around that she doesn’t even trust her own instincts about trust. Trust is stupid, she thinks at one point. What’s the true reason I’ve decided to trust [this person]? Certainly his work recommends him, his choice of friends; but isn’t it just as much his voice? I like to hear him say words. I trust the deep way he says, “Yes, Lady Queen.”
Why do I trust the instructors at
1 Comments on Guest Post: Kristin Cashore on the Flying Trapeze, last added: 3/16/2010
First a confession: I love Sir Kingsley Amis. That’s why the heading of this post says “Kingsley & I” rather than “Kingsley & me” (which is my preference cause I reckon it sounds better) but not old Kingsley, he was a sucker for good grammar.1 I does not wish to offend him.2
I love Kingsley Amis for so many reasons. Because he’s dead funny, because he wrote in pretty much every genre, and because his main writing concerns were story and characterisation. Thus one of my favourite anecdotes about him goes like this:
Kingsley Amis is listening to a radio interview with his son Martin Amis, in which Amis Junior says of his latest novel that it really must be read twice in order to be fully appreciated. At which point Amis Senior says, “Well, then he’s buggered it up, hasn’t he?”
Too right. In case you’re worried about animosity between father and son by all accounts they got on and there was much affection between them. They just had very different outlooks on writing. It happens.
I first came across Sir Kingsley when I was researching my PhD thesis on science fiction. His New Maps of Hell from 1960 was by far the wittiest, smartest, and most enjoyable book on science fiction I came across.3 That it was written by an established non-genre writer was astounding. It’s hard in these oh-so-much-more-tolerant days to convey just how much contempt was felt by the literati for us lowly genre writers. Why, back then even crime fiction (which Amis also loved) carried a stigma. But Kingsley Amis cared not a jot and wrote whatever he pleased: mysteries, science fiction, books about James Bond. I would love him for this alone.
Like me, he had an opinion on pretty much everything.4 (Though, um, his would only rarely, if ever, line up with mine.) In fact, I think he would have made a fabulous blogger. His non-fiction writing, espcially in newspapers, is chatty, unpretentious and instantly disarming:
Only one reader by her own account a hotelier and Tory [conservative] activist who’s also been a probation officer, took serious issue with me. “Your writing,” she stated, “is getting more and more biased and entrenched in reactionary fuddy-duddyism.” An excellent summing-up, I thought, of my contribution to the eighties’ cultural scene.
The quote comes from his writing on booze. Sir Kingsley was a boozer. He wrote three books on the subject, which are now handily collected in the one volume, Everyday Drinking, The Distilled Kingsley Amis. It’s wonderful and I say this as someone who pretty much disagrees with every word.
Sir Kingsley Amis’ drinks of choice were spirits and beer. He also had an inordinate fondness for cocktails and the book includes many recipes, including one for a Lucky Jim.5 I am a wine drinker,6 with little taste for cocktails, spirits or beer. Kingsley loved gin. I loathe it. Kingsley considered the Piña Colada a “disgusting concoction” and an “atrocity.” I love a properly made piña with fresh pineapple juice, fresh coconut milk and cream, and a dash of dark rum. Though really I just love coconut and pineapple—I’d happily skip the rum. He also considered combining beer and limes to be an “exit application from the human race” whereas I consider lime to be the only thing that makes most beer even vaguely palatable.
I also adore the French white wines he hates the most:
But the dry ones are mostly too dry to suit me, whether with food or solo. That’s if dry is the right word. I mean more than the absence of sweetness—I mean the quality that makes the saliva spurt into my mouth as soon as the wine arrives there. Perhaps I mean what wine experts call crispness or fintine
I recently read House of Mirth by Edith Wharton for the first time and I was gutted. Unlike, most USians, who’ve at least some inkling of what to expect from a Wharton book I had zero expectations or, rather, zero correct expectations. Wharton is not nearly so well known here as she is in her native country. Those Aussies who do know Wharton tend to know her from the Hollywood adaptations of her novels. I have managed to see none of them. So, I went in to the House of Mirth blind, like a lamb to the slaughter. Let me tell you: There was NO mirth.
I also went in kind of expecting her to be the USA’s Jane Austen. I have no idea why. It was a wrong expectation. For starters there was no happy ending. It was the bleakest most horrible ending imaginable. And the awfulness started about half way through the book, which is when I first started weeping. But it kept getting worse. And worse and even worse. Until it had the worst ending of all time and I was crying so hard snot was pouring out of my nose.
Thanks a bunch, Edith Wharton! If you weren’t already dead . . .
Have I mentioned that it’s a wonderful book? That Wharton is a brilliant writer? That Lily Bart’s dilemma is what ties her to Jane Austen? For there is a connection even across an ocean and nearly a century: their books are about the same matter: what are the options for women of a certain class? Women who are expected to marry “well”?
Marriage, or dependence on relatives, or ruin, or attempting to work at crappy jobs despite never being trained to be anything but ornamental. It’s grim. And Wharton shows just how grim.
I will definitely be reading more Wharton but I’m not exactly looking forward to it. Miserable endings are difficult. And I say that as someone whose has many favourite books that do not end at all well1 I have to steel myself to read them or I have to be in the mood for a good cry.
There’s something very vulnerable about reading. When I am immersed in a good book I feel so utterly consumed by it that an unhappy ending, the death of a favourite character can totally wreck me. My defenses are down. I cannot cope with the enormity of loss and grief and sorrow. Even though it’s not real. Movies, theatre and television never affect me so badly.2 But there’s something about the intimacy and privacy of reading that increases the emotional impact of a story.
Which is why I understand those readers who won’t read books with unhappy endings. I am in total sympathy with the need for reading that doesn’t take you to a scary, uncomfortable, or painful place. I was not quite in the right place for House of Mirth. I imagine it will be some time before I am brave enough to read it again.
How about youse lot? How many of you need a happy ending? Do any of you read the end first to see if it’s safe?
Today Louisville’s Courier-Journal has a most excellent article about adults reading YA by Erin Keane. I don’t just say that because I was interviewed for it, but because the article is smart and non-sensationalist, and includes some actual facts:
Young adult fiction’s appeal has grown way beyond the school library. What was once considered entertainment for kids has become big business for adults, who are increasingly turning to the children’s section for their own reading pleasure, according to publishing experts.
Nielsen’s BookScan predicted U.S. book sales will remain flat this year, but amid this industry slump, sales of young-adult titles are expected to continue to rise. It’s not only teenagers who are browsing the shelves
There’s no hint of panic about this anywhere in the article. In fact, you get the impression that adults reading the amazingly wonderful YA books out there is a good thing.
Pinch me now.
Today I blogged about over here. Those of you who’ve been wondering about the process of writing Liar might find it interesting.
Today I prepare for my appearance in Larchmont tonight and the many appearances I’m doing next week in Seattle and Portland. Then I’ll be at the Teen Lit Festival in Austin next Saturday. That’s quite a temperature range. Packing’s going to be fun!
For those of you who only read the posts and not the comments, you really need to check out the comments on the White Writer Advantages thread and the Hating Female Characters one. People are being astonishingly smart.
Today, as I’m sure you know, is the official release day of Scott Westerfeld’s latest novel, Leviathan. I am completely biased about this book. As I am about Scott. He’s my husband, my best friend, my first reader, my ally, my So Many Things. We read and critique every word each other writes. His books are my books and vice versa. So, um, you can totally grain-of-salt what I’m about to say.
I think this trilogy is the best YA Scott has written.1 I’ve loved it ever since he first started talking about it five or more years ago. An alternative universe of Darwinists and Clankers. Message lizards! Whale airships! An aristocrat passing as a commoner, a girl passing as a boy. These are so many of my favourite things.
But best of all is Derryn Sharp the aforementioned girl passing as a boy so she can serve on an air ship. She’s smart, funny, warm, brave, wonderful and curses marvellously and inventively! Barking spiders, I adore her. Here is a speech she imagines while floating high above London having her air sense tested:
“Hey, all you sods, I can fly and you can’t! A natural airman, in case you haven’t noticed. And in conclusion, I’d like to add that I’m a girl and you can all get stuffed!”
I love her. I guarantee you will too.
And if a new book from Scott, which is way better than Uglies,2 isn’t enough for you. This one is illustrated with the most jaw dropingly fabulous art ever. Mr Keith Thompson is a genius.
There you have it: Leviathan is not only a wonderful story but a gorgeous object d’art. Just wait till you see the endpapers!
Several months ago, the agent Kristin Nelson got in contact with me via my agent to ask if I would take a look at the debut novel of one of her clients with a view to blurbing it. I agreed to do so, mostly because I love Nelson’s blog, but warned that I rarely blurb cause I only do so when I’m excited about a book. I am picky.
But the book—Megan Crewe’s Give Up the Ghost—hit all my sweet spots. For starters it was a ghost story. I adore a good ghost story. Secondly, it wasn’t the same old, same old ghost story. It surprised me. It was fresh, original and sweet and I cried when it ended. So, yeah, I blurbed it.
Yesterday, was the release day for Give Up the Ghost so in order to let people know that a really beautiful and moving ghost story is now available for them to read, I tweeted it. Unfortunately, I had not had a good night’s sleep. In my first tweet I got Megan’s name and the name of her book wrong. In my second corrective tweet I got only the name of her book wrong. Aarrgh.
I would like to hereby formally apologise to Megan Crewe, who I’ve never met, but might be wondering how someone as hopeless as me can even manage to tie up her own shoe laces. (Hey, I wonder that too.) I am so sorry, Megan! Your book is wonderful and did not deserve me mangling both your name and its name.
Now, everyone, run out and get yourself a copy.
I has one. Back in May I mentioned that I wanted one on account of all the elecronic documents I read. I tried reading on my iPhone but it did not work out: too small and awkward.
After talking to friends and hearing what youse lot think I wound up getting a Sony 505. While it’s not perfect and lacks many features I want,1 it’s made a huge difference. While flying home to Sydney, I did not have to carry the usual 5 books in my backpack on top of the entire suitcase of books. All I carried was the eReader. My back thanks me. Profusely.
It turned out that the incompatibility with my Mac was not a problem thanks to this fabulous software, Calibre, which is incredibly easy to use and is yet to fail me in any way shape or form. Bless you, Calibre.
As predicted I’ve been using it to read manuscripts by friends, books I’ve been asked to blurb, and public-domain research and comfort books. (I’m yet to buy an ebook.) My eyes don’t get nearly as sore as they do when reading onscreen with my computer and I can curl up with my eReader, which I can’t do with my computer even though it’s wee (for a computer).
So, yes, I’m very happy I bought an eReader. However, I’m still waiting for the iPhone to have its own native eReader which is not tied to any particular retailer. Because I would like to have my portable electonic needs—music, mail, podcasts, camera, ebooks, texting, phone calls (ugh)—in the one location. I want an iPHone that’s roughly the same size as my Sony Reader. When that happens I’ll start buying ebooks.2
In the meantime, being able to read Pride & Prejudice, My Brilliant Career, Anne of Green Gables, Alice in Wonderland, The Getting of Wisdom and Ivanhoe whenever I want to is vastly happy making. I’m off to go make a donation to Project Gutenberg for making that possible (and to Calibre as well). Bless!
This year my favourite show is Avatar<
. Scott and me watched all three seasons in a greedy one-week rush. Loved it, loved it, loved it. If you haven’t seen it you really really should.
Ever since I’ve been wanting to watch something that hits the same spot. Thus far without a lot of success. Miyazake’s films, which I adore, have some of the same feel, but I’m in the mood for a series, not a standalone movies. I want interesting world building, plots that make sense, strong female characters.
The last is particularly important to me. We’ve been watching Death Note
and while there’s a lot I like about it, the main female character, Misa Amane, is absolutely appalling—clingy, immature, stupid, annoying. Ever since her first appearance I’ve been steadily losing interest. I cannot stress how much I never ever want to watch a show with a character like Misa Amane in it. I don’t remember the last time I’ve been so irritated by anyone—character or real person. I loved the character of Naomi Misora but sadly she was only in a few episodes. A show all about her would be awesome.
Fire away with recommendations, please.
And does anyone have an opinion on whether the Naruto anime is as good as the manga?
Diana Peterfreund has a request:
Um, can someone help me with an anime rec? I watched one episode a long time ago and I can’t remember what it was called but it was recommended to me.
It starts with a girl falling through the sky. then there are all these kids at a school — they’re angels, with little wings and halos. And they are cleaning up in a library that has what looks like a giant cocoon in it. And then you see inside the cocoon and the girl who was falling is inside of it.
Anyone know what series she’s talking about?
And thanks everyone for all the amazing anime recs. I can’t wait to start watching. I’m particularly excited about Read or Die cause I love the manga and didn’t know there was an anime.
Because I’m in transit,1 I asked Ari if she would step in for me today and tomorrow, and she kindly said yes. Thanks, Ari!
A little bit about Ari MissAttitude: I’m a teenager who loves to read, dance, laugh, listen to music and just live! I also love my fine brown skin =) I started my blog Reading in Color because I would visit teen book blogs and I never saw reviews of books with poc (people of color). This frustrated me so I decided to start my own blog in an attempt to slightly fill in this gap. I review multicultural fiction about girls and guys, gay or straight, which means books about African Americans, Latinos, Asians, Native Americans, I cover them all. I highly encourage everyone to look at their reading habits and evaluate if your reading is really that diverse. Read in Color!
Suggested reading from Ari
Hello everyone! Justine invited me to guest blog for her which is pretty exciting! Justine told me that lots of readers have been emailing her asking for suggestions about books to read with poc (people of color) for YA. I’ve compiled a list of books by gender and ethnicity because it was just easier to organize. Also, just because a book is listed under the ‘for guys’ section or the ‘Latino’ section, doesn’t mean that a Asian girl can’t read it. I highly encourage everyone to read at least a few books with people who look different from them.
There is crossposting, all the guy (or girl) books fit under another category, although I don’t always specify. I did some genres as well (only historical and sci fi, the rest are realistic fiction). In making this list, I realized that I have read almost no books about Native Americans so I definitely need to work on that. I realize that I’m probably going to be leaving off some author or book and I apologize for that, but I can’t get them all. Feel free to leave a comment with a book suggestion, I’ll be sure to add it to my tbr pile!
For guys: Whale Talk by Chris Crutcher, The Hoopster by Alan Lawrence Sitomer, Dark Dude by Oscar Hijuelos, Tyrell by Coe Booth, The Making of Dr. Truelove by Derrick Barnes, First Semester by Cecil Cross, Sammy & Julianna in Hollywood by Benjamin Alire Saenz, Monster by Walter Dean Myers, The Contender by Robert Lipstye, Sunrise over Fallujah by Walter Dean Myers
For girls (chick lit, cliques or about girls dealing with cliques): Hotlanta series by Denee Miller & Mitzi Miller, It Chicks series by Tia Williams (more substance than GG), the Del Rio Bay Clique series by Paula Chase (no spoiled rich kids in these books), the Kayla Chronicles by Sherri Winston, Honey-Blonde Chica series by Michelle Serros, Haters by Alicia Valdes-Rodriguez
Sci Fi: A Wish After Midnight by Zetta Elliott, The Black Canary by Jane Louise Curry, 47 by Walter Mosley, The Shadow Speaker by Nnedi Okroafor-mbachu (check out another one of her books Zarah the Windseeker), Rogelia’s House of Magic by Jamie Martinez Wood, City trilogy by Laurence Yep
Historical Fiction: Mare’s War by Tanita S. Davis, Flygirl by Sherri L. Smith, The New Boy by Julian Houston, Hang a Thousand Trees with Ribbons by Ann Rinaldi, Copper Sun by Sharon Draper, Fire from the Rock by Sharon Draper, Wolf by the Ears by Ann Rinaldi, The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing by M.T. Anderson (series) (all AA, some biracial. I would love to have suggestions of Latino/Asian/Native American historical fiction)
Native Americans: The Brave and The Chief (both by Robert Lipstye), The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie, Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech
Latinos: Cuba 15 by Nancy Osa, White Bread Competition by Jo Ann Yolanda Hernandez, Estrella’s Quinceanera by Malin Alegria (she has other really good books), La Linea by Ann Jaramillo, What the Moon Saw by Laura Resau, In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez (she has many, many books and they’re all fantastic! really, read any of them), Graffitti Girl by Kelly Parra, The Brothers Torres by Coert Voorhees, Adios to My Old Life by Caridad Ferrer, The Tequila Worm by Viola Canales, Amor and Summer Secrets by Diana Rodriguez Wallach (series)
Asians: Shine, Coconut Moon by Neesha Meminger, Ask Me No Questions by Marina Budhos, Nothing But the Truth (and a few white lies) by Justina Chen Headley, American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang, Sold by Patricia McCormick, Does My Head Look Big in This? by Randa-Abdel Fattah, First Daughter:Extreme American Makeover by Mitali Perkins (read any of her books they’re great! ), Hot, Sour, Salty, Sweet by Sherri L. Smith, The Fold by Anna Na, Good Enough by Paula Yoo
African American: Kendra by Coe Booth, The Skin I’m In by Sharon G. Flake, Jumped by Rita Williams-Garcia, Jason & Kyra by Dana Davidson, My Life as A Rhombus by Varian Johnson, Romiette & Julio by Sharon Draper, When the Black Girl Sings by Bil Wright, Hip Hop High School by Alan Lawrence Sitomer, Drama High series by L. Divine, Hot Girl by Dream Jordan, Can’t Stop the Shine by Joyce E. Davis
As you’ve probably heard by now Liar is getting a new cover for its publication in October.1 First Bloomsbury considered going with the Australian jacket of Liar and specifically with the black and red version you can see here because that would be the easiest thing to do. The design already exists after all and the window to make the change was very narrow.
However, given the paucity of black faces on YA covers, and the intensity of the debate around the original Liar cover, Bloomsbury felt really strongly that a more representative approach was needed. Rather than using a stock photo, Bloomsbury went the whole hog and did a photo shoot.
Here’s the result:
I am extremely happy to have a North American cover that is true to the book I wrote. I hope you like it as much as I do. I also hope we can prove (again) that it’s simply not true that a YA cover with a black face on the cover won’t sell. But let’s also put it to the test with books written by people of color. You don’t have to wait to grab your copy of Coe Booth’s Kendra2 or any of the many fabulous books recommended by Color Online etc.
Sometimes when people read a book of mine and tell me it reminds them of some other book, especially if I have not read that book, I get in a snit. I am well aware that this reflects very poorly upon me. Please don’t judge.1 So when I was told that Liar was reminiscent of Jacqueline Woodson’s If You Come Softly2 my first reaction was pursed lipped muttering to myself about the special petal-ness of Liar and how it’s not like any other book ever.3
But after the snit phase comes the getting curious phase. I grabbed a copy of Woodson’s If You Come Softly and read it on the plane back home to Sydney.
Wow. Just wow. I wept for about an hour after finishing. Actually, not true, I started weeping before I finished it. If You Come Softly is an exquisitely written, beautiful, deeply moving and heartfelt book. Much of it is set in areas of New York City that I have at least glancing familiarity with.4 Woodson gets it all right and does so astonishingly economically. This is one of those jewels of a book with nary a word out of place. Yes, beautiful writing makes me cry. I am a sap.
That anyone would even think of Softly in the same sentence as anything I’ve ever written is extremely flattering. I am even more ashamed of my snit fit.
I don’t want to tell you too much about the book except to say that it’s a love story. As long time readers of my blog will know I have a total paranoia about spoilers. I much prefer to know as little about a book going in as possible and I assume my readers feel the same.5 No spoiling it in the comments either!
If you haven’t already read Jacqueline Woodson’s If You Come Softly get hold of a copy immediately. It’s a wee slip of a book and won’t take you long to read but I guarantee that it will stay with you for a very long time. I plan to get hold of the sequel, Behind You, as soon as I can.
My last week in NYC I was invited to visit the studio where the audio book of Liar was being recorded. Even though I had a gazillion million things to do I made sure to get there. I’m so glad I did. It was an amazing experience.
I’d never had my prose read out loud by a talented actor like Channie Waites before. It was a revelation. I know it’s a cliche but she really did make my book come alive. Bits that I hadn’t realised were funny, she rendered funny. (In a good way!) It was strange and wonderful and gave me chills. And as you can see I’m really struggling to articulate how incredible it felt to listen to Micah brought to life.
Channie Waites in the booth behind the glass and Lisa Cahn reflected in the glass
Channie Waites in the booth and Jeffrey Kawalek doing his sound engineering thing
Let me instead talk about the nitty gritty. There were three people in the studio: Channie Waites in the recording booth, then the engineer, Jeffrey Kawalek, who’d call a halt to proceedings anytime he heard a P or T pop or the rustle of Channie’s clothing (those mics are crazy sensitive) who fiddled with knobs and dials and, lastly, Lisa Cahn, the producer, who would stop the recording to ask Channie to read it with more or less emphasis and so on. It was unbelievably hard to keep my mouth shut and not interrupt with my own suggestions, but I managed, and after a few minutes was able to relax and just enjoy hearing someone else’s interpretation of my book and my characters.
Channie Waites in the recording booth
Both Channie and Lisa had really interesting theories and questions about the book. I wrote Liar to be read in at least two different ways, but the responses I’m getting are showing me that there are way more than just two interpretations. I love hearing them all. Especially Channie’s and Lisa’s because they’d both read it very closely indeed. The finished recording is eight hours long but it takes at least double that to do the recording. That’s a long time to spend reading one book. I can’t wait to hear the whole thing.
The Liar recording was produced by Brilliance Audio and the How To Ditch Your Fairy one was produced by Bolinda Audio. Each will be available from the other company because of their cunning co-production. Liar will go on sale in each country at the same time as the print edition.
Since everyone else is professing their love for Strange Horizons and urging folks to support their fund raising efforts I thought that I would jump on the band wagon. What can I say? I’m a sheep.
Like Scalzi and Nora, my first fiction sale was to Strange Horizons way back in 2001. At the time I had been trying to sell one of my short stories for just about a gazillion years. I thought it would never happen. So I would love them for that alone. But that is not even close to the best thing about Strange Horizons I love it and read it because it is a breath of fresh air in the stale and fusty world of adult genre. N. K. Jemisin puts it this way:
I love the speculative fiction genre, but it’s sick.1 Not dying—that’s crap—but not healthy either. The problem is societal, but because SF is the genre of society’s idealism, the symptoms of the sickness tend to be more visible here than in mainstream fiction. The cure for this sickness is, IMO, for the genre to take some collective purgative and restorative measures, like jettisoning old business models that don’t work and old attitudes that are actively harmful, and try something new.
SH represents this newness. They’re a new-paradigm speculative fiction market in every sense of the word: online not print; nonprofit not commercial; collaborative and not One Single Editor’s vision; weekly not monthly/quarterly/whenever the people involved get around to it. They actively seek out voices within the SF community that don’t get heard enough, whether those voices be newbies or PoC or writers from non-Western countries or literary writers or socialists or whatever. The fact that they’ve managed to stick around this long, in an era when SF magazines are dropping like flies, speaks volumes to me about the sustainability of their model. They offer a desired service to the community, ergo they’re still in business. And the fact that their authors (and the magazine itself) keep winning awards speaks to the quality of their work.
This, to me, is what an SF magazine should be and do.
I love Strange Horizons‘ diversity—in all senses of that word. So many adult genre anthos and magazines are the same voices over and over again. I quit reading them. I never know what I’m going to get when I read SH. That goes for the fiction as well as the non-fiction. It really is the best.
Do I think it’s perfect? No. For obvious reasons I wish they did a better job covering the world of Young Adult and children’s as well as manga and graphic novels. However, I’m well aware that they are an entirely volunteer organisation and they can’t do everything and what they do they do better than any other publication out there.
Bless you, Strange Horizons.
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Yes, I seem to have become one of those birdwatching types. What of it?
sulphur crested cockatoos
myna birds (alas)
And a tiny little wee birdie smaller than the palm of my hand that I haven’t been able to identify. Zips by too fast for me to even figure out what colour it is. I’d love to hear any suggestions as to what it might be. I am new to this birdwatching caper.
Here’s this morning’s sunrise:
First bird I heard this morning: rainbow lorikeet. They really do have the happiest-making calls.